Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm About to be A Lab Rat!

I will soon be a taking on a six-month-long, part-time job as a lab rat, but in a nice, and I hope, helpful way.

Along with many other Adult Children of Hoarders, I will be taking part in a study headed up by Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, whom you may know from the "Hoarders" television series.  She is the nice, calm Southern lady who calls it like she sees it. It takes old-school Southern manners to hold out her hand to help and, simultaneously, not to hesitate a moment to point out how awful a house smells, with the same sincere smile on her face and the same willingness to help. 

Her team will be studying the effects of growing up in a hoarded home. 

I have to admit that I am just a little bit nervous.  Although I know that the study will be completely anonymous, with participants' identities scrupulously protected, I nonetheless expect that answering the surveys and  talking through the interviews will stir up a lot of emotions I thought I had repressed or otherwise dealt with in some other way.  I know that there are some things in my life which are still terrible sore spots, but I also know that I have forgiven a lot, and that I love my mother and my other hoarding relatives and only want to see the best for them, especially my mother, in the long run.

A few things I am concerned about: 

-- although I grew up in a hoarded home, I was not verbally or physically abused, although my parents were very controlling people.  I know that our house was mostly about a 5 or 6 on the hoarding scale, and it was a "clean hoard" (no garbage, feces, etc), while other people grew up in much filthier homes and in very abusive situations, and I don't want to sound like a whiner.

-- there is that nagging sense of betrayal of the hoarding parent, just as with Adult Children of Alcoholics when they reveal their secrets.  The strict anonymity of the study will help me get past this, I am sure.

-- I want to tell my mother's story and, as I have all my life, try to ferret out why she holds on to so many things that only evoke negative memories.  It is as though she has a "Museum of Failure," jam-packed with Things That Might Have Been.  This aspect of her hoarding causes me the most pain -- listening to her re-live bitter family feuds when she touches certain objects that remind her of certain places in time, or sitting patiently as she tells, in excruciating detail for the umpteenth time, about incidents in which she was taken advantage of by certain of her relatives.  Why would she want to be reminded of them, and re-tell the same stories time after time with the same hurt, as fresh as when it was new, forty or fifty years later? Why does she want to hold on so tightly to the "Library of Hurt Feelings of the Past?"  Unlike some hoarders, she rarely picks up an object to tell a happy story about it.

-- I am also wondering if I will be able to discuss plans for the future.   Specifically, even though I love my mother and hope she lives to a very healthy old age, when she finally does pass on, I will need to be able to get rid of everything except photos, a few real heirlooms and other objects with positive family memories, and a few items of furniture ... and to get rid of these things without guilt.  

-- but my biggest concern?  I am afraid that the interviews will not give me enough time to tell the whole story.  I hope that is not the case.  

The researchers are also interested in identifying what strengths, if any, we feel we may have gained from growing up in such environments, and in fairness, they are also seeking information about any good points or character strengths our hoarding loved ones may possess. 

This is going to be interesting, and I will keep you all posted on any parts of the study I am allowed to blog about.

Have a great weekend!  Here in the South, the trees are budding, small animals are coming out of hibernation and the birds are singing.  Time to let some fresh air into our own lives as well.  Has anyone started their spring cleaning yet?



  1. Julia: I'm the child of a hoarder,and I hope you will be able to keep us posted on this study and its findings.

  2. Hi Julia,
    I've recently realized that I'm (sort of) an adult cf a Hoarder/clutterer, and I'm thankful that you and others are blogging about your experiences. Thank you!

    I hope that your experience with Dr. Chabaud was helpful for you and for all the participants, and will prove to be helpful in creating awareness, understanding and eventually support for all former, current and future children of hoarders.

    I seem to be having trouble posting here, so I may have to do this in a couple of comments - hope you don't mind.

  3. cont...

    I have a question for you, if you don't mind. In your "A few things I am concerned about" section you state that:
    "although I grew up in a hoarded home, I was not verbally or physically abused, although my parents were very controlling people. I know that our house was mostly about a 5 or 6 on the hoarding scale, and it was a "clean hoard" (no garbage, feces, etc), while other people grew up in much filthier homes and in very abusive situations, and I don't want to sound like a whiner."

    First of all, I don't believe that anyone who has grown up in that kind of environment should ever be called a whiner for expressing their resultant grief and pain, and I hope that you've realized that you thoroughly deserve to get help, sympathy, and support. No matter how much worse others may have had it, what you experienced was still horrific and damaging and (in my opinion) should have been considered cause for everyone to have jumped in to protect and guide you.

    That said, my mother was horrifically abusive and terrorizing, and there is a link there with the extreme clutter and our inability to touch it that I still haven't been able to figure out and haven't seen discussed or even mentioned anywhere other than in your post here, one comment I read on a blogpost that asserted many hoarders are actually sociopaths, and one comment I heard on one of the hoarders shows (where the city inspector expressed sympathy for the daughters and called the hoarder in question one of the meanest 'dogs' he's ever come across).

    So I was just wondering if this subject came up in your group sessions, and if you would happen to know if there is anyone blogging, investigating or writing papers about it?

    I would imagine that the experiences of children with caring but troubled parents like yours would be in many important ways drastically different from those of us with experiences with horribly abusive parents who hoard/extreme clutter. I suspect they may also represent different types of hoarding as well.

    It sounds like, perhaps, your mothers 'control' was to control her own sense of panic and anxiety, and the children just got 'controled' in the bargain as a byproduct. Reading here the last few days I'm starting to realize that, unlike your mother, my mother used her clutter as a sort of weapon, not because she couldn't help herself, but as a very effective (and very shaming which adds to the effectiveness) tool to control us. When we finally left the house, or when we were being abused in other ways that required people being around, she could clean up just fine, but I was always punished for trying to clean up (but I'd still try to do it every chance I got...). But now as an adult I get trauma trigger reactions to mess and can't clean my own house to save my soul. Most of my ptsd is centred around self-care and cleaning, and the more I want to do it the worse the trauma reactions (nightmares, body flashbacks, stomach problems) get. But all I'm able to read about so far are situations like yours where parents are caring but traumatized and overburdened. So I still haven't found a 'home' in identifying what I'm dealing with, although COH seems to come closest to the mark (along with (again, sort of) Munchausen by Proxy).

    So I'd like to say thank you to you and your cousin for sharing - especially your house-cleaning observations and tips. And if you hear of anyone specifically discussing abusive hoarding parents, I would greatly appreciate it if you could mention a link or reference.

    Thank you, and wishing you all the best.

  4. Every time I ask my husband to do something, he gets really upset, because his ex-wife used to yell at him to clean the house. It's become his innate response.

  5. I never display items that remind of a hurtful experience - I train myself to stay focused on the positive.

  6. If we start conversing about negative subjects, we stop each other and say, "Let's talk about something positive." The more you do it, the easier it gets...

  7. I frequently declutter items that are never seen. If they can't see it, they can't remember they have it. I secretly store items in garbage bags in the closet or trunk of my car and then take them to the dump or thrift stores.

  8. Once I admitted I wanted to change, I started decluttering by making a list of "necessities" and then thinking it over for a while.

    Such as a bed and floor lamp for the bedroom. I kept imagining my bedroom with limited furniture until I made it a reality. I store 2 weeks of outfits in baskets beneath the bed. I keep handy items in a tote bag on a hook next to the bed. I do not need closets, bureaus or tables.

    I continued the same for each room - keeping only the "necessities". It was a fun and creative process.